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Grand jury transcript shows a combative Nixon

November 10, 2011|By David Lauter | Washington Bureau
  • On Aug. 9, 1974, the day of his resignation, Richard M. Nixon waves goodbye from the steps of his helicopter as he leaves the White House following a farewell address to his staff.
On Aug. 9, 1974, the day of his resignation, Richard M. Nixon waves goodbye… (Chick Harrity / Associated…)

The transcript of Richard M. Nixon’s testimony to members of the Watergate grand jury shows the former president as combative, frequently arguing with prosecutors, sparring over questions and challenging their fairness.

As he did in public statements, Nixon insisted that illegal activities of which he was accused had precedents in previous administrations.

On the second day of his testimony, for example, prosecutors asked about White House efforts to use the IRS against political opponents, particularly Democratic National Committee Chairman Lawrence F. O’Brien, whose office in the Watergate building had been the target of the burglary which began the scandal.

PHOTOS: Nixon and Watergate

“The Special Prosecutor’s office is only interested in the IRS harassment activities insofar as it deals with Mr. O’Brien?” Nixon demanded. “It is not interested in any harassment that the IRS may have done or is doing or has done with regard to, say, me, my friends, or anything like that?”

Reminded that the special prosecutor had only limited jurisdiction, Nixon nonetheless insisted on regaling prosecutors with a description of how in 1952, when he ran for vice president, someone had leaked his income tax returns to Drew Pearson, one of the reigning Washington columnists of the day.

A decade later, Nixon said, when he ran for governor of California, files about an IRS investigation of the purchase of his home in Trousdale Estates were leaked “to the California press, to the Los Angeles Times and the Long Beach paper.”

A few minutes later, Assistant Special Prosecutor Jay Horowitz asked about notes that White House aide John Ehrlichman had taken of a meeting among himself, Nixon and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman.

One of the notes said “Check McGovern IRS files.”

“I can never recall suggesting Mr. McGovern, Sen. McGovern’s, files be checked,” Nixon said, regarding the man who ran against him for president in 1972. “What I do recall is only a suggestion that the McGovern contributors might be checked.”

“I was suggesting that in the campaign, that we should be as effective in conducting our investigations as they had been in conducting their investigations.”

DOCUMENTS: Read Nixon's grand jury testimony

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